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Vaclav Havel's "The Memorandum" is Revived by The Actors Company Theatre
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Vaclav Havel's "The Memorandum" is Revived by The Actors Company Theatre

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TACT/The Actors Company Theatre
(TACT Website)

The Memorandum

By Vaclav Havel
(Vaclav Havel Bio)
Directed by Jenn Thompson

At the
Beckett Theatre
(Theatre Row Website)
410 West 42nd Street

James Prendergast as Joseph Gross
Mark Alhadeff as Jan Ballas
Jeffrey C. Hawkins as Pillar/Thumb/George/Column
Lynn Wright as Hana
Joel Leffert as Mark Lear
John Plumpis as Otto Stroll
Trent Dawson as Alex Savant
Kate Levy as Helena
Nilanjana Bose as Maria

Scenic Design: Adrian W. Jones
Costume Design: David Toser
Lighting Design: Philip S. Rosenberg
Sound & Projection Design: Stephen Kunken
Music: Joseph Trapanese
Production Stage Manager: Meredith Dixon
Asst. Stage Manager: Megan E. Coutts
TACT General Manager: Cathy Bencivenga
Press: O & M Co.
Dramaturg: Stephanie Vella
Production Manager: Matt McAdon
Props by Lily Fairbanks

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 3, 2010

In almost every respect, Vaclav Havel’s 1968 play, in revival after almost 40 years, is one of the most visually mesmerizing plays I’ve seen in years. In fact, the direction is so tight that the actors seem choreographed like dancers, moving at times with motion that’s other worldly. This timeless masterpiece (I’m a longtime fan of Vaclav Havel, the literary first president of the Czech Republic), could be a take on today’s meaningless bureaucracy, both business or government, with nonsensical decisions that bring down the system. In The Memorandum, everyone in the office is supposed to now communicate in “Ptydepe”, a grating and dull language to my ear. How some members of the cast of this production managed to speak ad infinitum about this language’s worth, or express themselves in the language, is beyond belief.

Adrian Jones’ set shifts from the Manager’s office to a classroom to the other side of the wall of an office party, replete with secret hideaways for “the watcher”, who spies on his co-workers, climbing out for occasional air. James Prendergast, as Josef Gross, the company Manager, is tricked out of his position by his Asst. Manager, briefly to switch jobs, but then to become the lowly crawling “watcher”, all because of a memorandum that he couldn’t translate. Much is made of the worthiness of “Ptydepe”, pro and con. It’s during the dry classroom speeches (by Joel Leffert as Mark Lear) that I found the one area that Director, Jenn Thompson, could have tightened. But the absolute charm and choreographic motion, as natural and engaging as possible, outweighed the length of these linguistic diatribes.

Mark Alhadeff, as Jan Ballas, is a cross between a Wall Street smoothie and a low life crook, with wit, confidence, and wily survival skills. Jeffrey C. Hawkins, in several secondary roles, is a silent accomplice, an eager student of “Ptydepe”, and more, and he was in complete character at every moment, with astounding facial nuance and body gesture. Joel Leffert, as the language instructor, has a memory the size of an ocean to expound on his subject flawlessly, but, again, these segments could be synthesized. Lily Fairbanks (props) provided mannequins as classroom students, accentuating the wooden nature of the lectures. Kate Levy, as Helena, an office worker with sassy savoir faire, added spark and spunk to the comedic proceedings. Lynn Wright, as the Manager’s secretary, was hilarious, as the fidgety, frilly female, glued to her mirror and comb. When she hopped around to run an errand, she embodied the sitcom secretary of old. John Plumpis and Trent Dawson, as Otto and Alex, filled out the cast in campy office scenarios.

As the sensitive, serious secretary, Nilanjana Bose, as Maria, a put-upon worker who comes to the manager’s rescue, was impressive and charismatic, as was the full cast. James Prendergast, filling in for the injured Simon Jones (Co-Artistic Director), met the challenge splendidly, morphing from self-absorbed to subservient, in the twists and turns of this clever plot. David Toser’s costumes were quintessentially suited to the business and pleasure of the office politics, and Stephen Kunken’s sound and projection were detailed to each scene. I was struck at the muffled sounds of the office partiers on the other side of the wall, as the demeaned manager was left lonely and alienated. The tech-voice of the “watcher” was another coup de grace. Philip S. Rosenberg’s lighting even showed shadows of the partiers, adding to the sense of scenic isolation and poignancy. Joseph Trapanese’s music enhanced the ambient effects. Havel’s theme of nonsensical bureaucracy, with its ability to confuse, isolate, and depress creative progress and intrinsic motivation, could apply to government and politics, as well as the generic “office’. Kudos to Vaclav Havel, and kudos to The Actors Company Theatre for this fascinating and dynamic revival.

John Plumpis, Trent Dawson, Kate Levy,
James Prendergast, Jeffrey C. Hawkins,
Nilanjana Bose, Mark Alhadeff in
"The Memorandum".
Courtesy of Stephen Kunken

Trent Dawson, Kate Levy, John Plumpis,
James Prendergast, Mark Alhadeff,
Jeffrey C. Hawkins, Lynn Wright,
Joel Leffert, Nilanjana Bose in
"The Memorandum".
Courtesy of Stephen Kunken

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at